FCC rejects two RDOF applications, meets internal criticism

Aug. 12, 2022
According to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, LTD Broadband and Starlink failed to meet RDOF program requirements and couldn't convince the agency to fund "risky proposals." FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has contrary ideas.

On August 10, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it is rejecting the long-form applications of LTD Broadband and Starlink to receive support through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program.

In a press release, the FCC said it determined that these applications failed to demonstrate that the providers could deliver the promised service.

"Funding these vast proposed networks would not be the best use of limited Universal Service Fund dollars to bring broadband to unserved areas across the United States," the Commission concluded.

“After careful legal, technical, and policy review, we are rejecting these applications,” commented FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

She continued, "Consumers deserve reliable and affordable high-speed broadband. We must put scarce universal service dollars to their best possible use as we move into a digital future that demands ever more powerful and faster networks. We cannot afford to subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements.”

In the initial auction results announced December 7, 2020, LTD Broadband won $1,320,920,718.60, and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (Starlink) won $885,509,638.40.

“Starlink’s technology has real promise,” added Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “But the question before us was whether to publicly subsidize its still developing technology for consumer broadband—which requires that users purchase a $600 dish—with nearly $900 million in universal service funds until 2032.”

For its part, although LTD was a relatively small fixed wireless provider before the auction, the FCC's press release notes that it was the largest winning bidder in the auction, submitting winning bids in 15 states. Subsequently, it failed to receive eligible telecommunications carrier status in seven states in time for program requirements, rendering it ineligible in those states for support.

Ultimately, the FCC review concluded that LTD was not reasonably capable of deploying a network of the scope, scale, and size required by LTD’s extensive winning bids.

To date, the FCC notes that the RDOF program has authorized more than $5 billion in funding to bring primarily fiber gigabit broadband service to over 3,000,000 locations in 47 states. "With support from this program, hundreds of carriers have already begun deploying these future-proof networks to connect unserved areas," added the agency's statement.

In response to the rejection of Starlink's RDOF bid, Commissioner Brendan Carr, the senior Republican on the FCC, on August 10 issued the following statement: “I am surprised to find out via a press release—while I am on a work trip to remote parts of Alaska—that the FCC has made this significant decision. I will have more to say because we should be making it easier for unserved communities to get service, not rejecting a proven satellite technology that is delivering robust, high-speed service today. To be clear, this is a decision that tells families in states across the country that they should just keep waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide even though we have the technology to improve their lives now.”

Separately, the FCC announced that is ready to authorize $21,112,263 in broadband funding to three companies to deploy gigabit service to almost 15,000 locations in four states: Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

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